Just a ramble

Kathy Larson
Feb. 20, 2022

It’s Sunday morning, it’s cold outside, and I really don’t feel like doing much of anything.

I’ve become hooked on the game Wordle. Have my sisters to thank for that. Lol. I am very happy that they introduced me to it though — it’s my early morning addiction and I can’t wait to see how I have done compared to them. What I love about Wordle is that it is a relatively quick game; solve the word of the day and you’re done. Once I’ve solved it and shared my score (usually 5/6, sometimes 4/6) I am happy to get on with the rest of my day. I don’t waste any time thinking about mistakes I made or if I can do better on the next challenge — it’s done, and that’s it until I open it up the next morning.

I also like the brief connection with my sisters first thing in the morning. Most days we only share our scores, but occasionally we add a few words of conversation. It’s a small thing, but a good thing.

This week I began writing again. For real. It has been a long, long struggle to get back to wanting to write. For so many years I just pushed writing aside, choosing to do anything else, where once upon a time I did anything I could to find any extra scrap of time that I could use to indulge my passion.

When I sat down at the keyboard for the first time this past week I was amazed at how familiar it felt, how absolutely lovely it was to see words appearing as I typed them. I don’t even care if most of them are garbage — I’m just so happy to be doing something that makes me happy. For years I’ve treated myself as a failure for not having made a successful career out of my writing; I wouldn’t write because I judged myself too harshly.

Then, I read Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I realized just how much I missed writing. Words make me happy. Stringing words together in sentences makes me ecstatic. Joining sentences together into paragraphs, into pages, into chapters and essays makes me positively starry-eyed. For too long I’ve been focused on the wrong thing — trying to impress others, to seek validation in their opinions — when, really, I only ever had to worry about myself.

This past summer I boxed up all but a few of my manuscripts, my files of story ideas, my files of weird news articles, strange phrases gleaned from conversations, images clipped from magazines, words scrawled on bits of napkins, receipts and corners of pages torn from notebooks, because I had given up on myself as a writer. It was something I tried, I told myself, something else that I had failed at.

I think when I did that a switch got stuck somewhere inside me — like a light switch that is stuck halfway between on and off. The light will flicker intermittently until someone comes along and flicks it all the way one way or the other. All the empty space in my office that had been filled for so long with pages and pages of words that I had written kept flickering in my mind’s peripheral vision, like that cluster of stars in the night sky that you only see when you’re not looking directly at them.

Thank God, thank the muses, thank the Divine, thank the guardians, guides and angels — thank the Universe — that I decided to flip the switch to on.

I like feeling happy again.

A few thoughts on happiness

by Kathy Larson

Feb. 16, 2022

I just finished reading The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. This wasn’t a book I sought out on my own. It was given to me by my sister-in-law, Connie. She said it was okay; I said I’d give it a try.

From the beginning I was a little skeptical about someone writing about trying to bring more happiness into their life, or, more specifically, about them trying to determine if they were happy in their life. I thought it would just be another one of those painful self-awareness books exhorting us all to be our best selves!, or live our best life!, topics for which I have very little patience.

In hindsight I think that could have been a clue.

It didn’t take long for me to figure out that I didn’t have a clue about whether I was happy or not. I thought I was happy, but was I? Really?

Certainly, life had not turned out the way I had imagined it would some forty-odd years ago when I was a 21-year-old bride staring into a future that seemed to stretch on forever.

We think we know ourselves when we’re that age, think we know EVERYTHING, and think there is nothing we can’t do. Then life happens and before you know it you’re struggling to keep up, struggling to change with every new day, every new challenge. You’re learning that you don’t really know who you are, don’t really know anyone, for that matter, and it scares you. Luckily, you also learn how to grow up, to face your fears, to meet your challenges, and, even if the results are not always what you thought or hoped they’d be, you learn to accept them and ready yourself for whatever comes next.

Then, forty years go by. One day you look at yourself and wonder who you are. Wonder who the man you married is. Wonder where the people you thought you were went. You start reading a book on happiness and your mind is flooded with questions. All of them leading to one single question: Am I happy?

If I rate myself according to Rubin’s Eight Splendid Truths I would say I am semi-happy. I try to make others happy by being happy myself; like most people, though, this is tough to do ALL. THE. TIME. I try to focus on things in my life that make me happy. This one is even tougher to accomplish, because I tend to end up feeling guilty and selfish if I spend too much time focusing on things that only make me happy. Then, I don’t feel happy anymore. Catch-22 anyone?

Her Fourth Splendid Truth states that ‘you’re not happy unless you think you’re happy”. Huh? I’ve tried going about my day telling myself ‘you are happy!” over and over again, but when there is evidence to the contrary floating all around me I end up feeling silly and beleaguered and resentful. Anything but happy.

I won’t go through all the Splendid Truths, just suffice it to say that they boil down to something we all know and have heard a million times – you alone are responsible for your own happiness and no one else’s. You can make people happy by being happy, but, no one can make you happy, and you can’t make someone be happy if they choose not to be.

Generally speaking I’d say I’m a reluctant optimist. I believe that things will work out — eventually — and I accept that they may not work out exactly as I’d like. I believe that most people are good at heart — even though they may do things that would seem to prove otherwise. Though the glass is half full for me, I’m extremely careful about where and how I set it down — in case it spills and I’m left with nothing. My proven strategy to getting through life is to expect the best and prepare for the worst.

Perhaps not the best recipe for happiness, but it’s gotten me this far.

After finishing The Happiness Project I immediately began contemplating starting my own happiness project. Because it’s apparent that I could stand to be a little more happy. The problem is that thinking about getting started has made me feel very unhappy. At this particular time in my life I’m dealing with a whole lot of stress and uncertainty and though it sounds counter-intuitive, taking time to focus on my personal happiness just seems impossible.

So, I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done — take each day as it comes — and approach it every morning with a positive attitude and the belief that today will be a good day. Maybe it won’t be a particularly happy day, but it can be a good day.

I liked Rubin’s book; it gave me a lot to think about. In the end, though, I think it’s as simple as this: Happiness is a choice — you can choose to be happy or you can choose to not be happy. Maybe choosing happiness is the harder choice, but it’s also the better choice. As the Grail Knight says to Indiana Jones: Choose wisely.